Baton Rouge hospitals already overwhelmed by COVID patients are bracing for twin disasters with a major hurricane about to sweep through the region this weekend.
As major regional hospital systems, Baton Rouge General, Our Lady of the Lake, Ochsner and Woman's Hospital are already dealing with COVID patients from their overcrowded rural counterparts. BRG and Woman's said they will take on a similar role as hospital in low-lying coastal areas evacuate from Ida, which is expected to make landfall on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane.
Ochsner officials said it would be "challenging" for their system to take any more patients. The Lake, too, said its capacity is already "very limited."
Despite the strain they're already under, all four systems said they are prepared for Ida.
“I feel pretty confident in the plans that we have in place that we’ll be able to weather this storm, and we’ll be able to stand up and be a helping neighbor to those in need down south,” BRG emergency coordinator Alyson Hughes said.
BRG's three facilities — Bluebonnet, Mid City and Ascension — are equipped with diesel generators that could maintain power in case of an outage, she said. The facilities also have stockpiles of fuels and contingency plans in place to get additional fuel if the outage drags on.
Though BRG's hospitals are already filled with COVID patients, staff is conducting regular headcounts so they can determine where to place potential evacuees from coastal hospitals.
BRG is also stockpiling food, water and linens, as well as finding places to lodge the nurses and doctors that care for patients.
Officials with Ochsner, which operates hospitals across much of the state and in Mississippi, said the system is battle-hardened and prepared for the storm.
“We’ve been preparing for multiple days now," President Warner Thomas said. "We’ve done this before. We constantly update our disaster preparedness plans."
Systemwide, 836 people are hospitalized with COVID at Ochsner facilities, down from 988 a week ago, Thomas said.
Ochsner has additional staff prepared to step in where needed, as well as 10 days of medical supplies, fuel, food and drugs for all of its facilities. Each site is also equipped with a main generator and backups in case of an outage, Ochsner officials said during a Friday news conference.
"We want to do this in a way that is safe from a patient care perspective and also safe from a COVID perspective," Ochsner Chief Operating Officer Mike Hulefeld said. "All of our campuses have figured out and have adequate space for our staff to be safe that will be on site."
Similar preparations are being made at Our Lady of the Lake, Louisiana's largest standalone hospital.
The hospital has a natural gas generator, backup diesel generators, backup oxygen and ways to receive additional supplies following the storm. In other words, OLOL said in a statement Friday: "Everyone is ready."
"Hurricane season is a fact of life in Louisiana, and we have systems and processes in place for response in the event of a storm," spokesman Ryan Cross wrote. "We are factoring in the complexity of our high COVID-19 census and ensuring we’re able to maintain care for all of our patients who need us. We have the supplies, backup generators, and staffing plans necessary to accomplish this goal."
In the event of hospital evacuations from coastal areas, the filled-to-the-brink hospital "will work to accept the transfers of as many patients as we can," Cross said.
The Lake was treating 190 patients with COVID as of Friday morning, 79 of whom were in the intensive care unit, according to a news release.
Similar to The Lake, Ochsner said it would be difficult to receive patients evacuating from other hospitals.
"I'm not saying we wouldn’t take any patients, but our ability to take a big influx would certainly be very challenging," Thomas said.
Woman's Hospital said it will remain open for patients and it's already coordinating with coastal hospitals to receive babies from neonatal intensive care units.
Woman's was treating nine people with COVID as of Friday afternoon.
All four hospitals will remain open throughout the storm, but Hughes recommended any person who relies on electronic medical equipment to have plans in place for how they’ll power their equipment during an outage in order to reduce stress on the hospitals. Officials with Ochsner said they're working to supply COVID patients that aren't hospitalized with backup oxygen and portable chargers for their devices.
While Hughes said she’s confident in the BRG's ability to weather Ida, worst case scenario plans are in place in the event of a “catastrophic” event, such as a tornado striking a facility, Hughes said. Staff is regularly trained in how to evacuate patients, and the system is communicating with other hospitals across the state about potential evacuation plans.
“It is a bit stressful because there are usually better patient outcomes when patients can stay where they are, Hughes said. "But I feel pretty confident that our role in the storm will be to shelter in place and to stand up as a receiving area."